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“Thus the LORD GOD showed me: Behold a basket of summer fruit…”The end has come upon My people…”” (Amos 8:1)
Soaring temperatures in the land of Israel during the long and rainless summer expose its inhabitants to the perils of heatstroke. The burdensome “heat of the day” (Mt 20:12), as opposed to the “cool of the day” (Gen 3:8) points to the result of sin, but also to the saving grace of God, reminiscent of the wilderness journey in the scorching sun but shaded “under the cloud” (Num 14:14; 1 Cor 10:1) .
The blazing heat in Israel is used by Isaiah for an eschatological message. As the world heads towards the inevitable, when “the elements will melt with fervent heat” (2 Pet 3:10), the prophet describes the blessed state of the elect, later echoed by John: “They shall neither hunger nor thirst, neither heat nor sun shall strike them” (Is 40:10; Rev 7:16).
As the chosen ones of God who live in the end times, we constantly experience the “heat of the day” in the form of various challenges to our faith. What are these challenges? How can we overcome them? How does God shade us from the scorching sun? More importantly, how should we prepare ourselves for the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and how do we find true spiritual fulfillment as described by Elder John?
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Scripture reveals to us that at one point in Jewish history God lamented, “There is no truth or mercy or knowledge of God in the land” (Hos 4:1). He further mourned, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hos 4:6a). Note that these grievances were not directed at the entire world; they were specific charges against God’s chosen people. God had an expectation of His beloved people, and they did not live up to it. Rather than walking in His ways, they betrayed the true and living God to join themselves to idols, harlotry, and wickedness (Hos 4:2,12). No wonder God’s “heart churns within [Him]” (Hos 11:8).
The apostolic church also stressed the importance of growing in spiritual knowledge. In the middle of a discourse concerning Jesus Christ as our High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek, the author of Hebrews digresses to reprove the members for their declining faith. The author bemoans, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God” (Heb 5:12). It is clear the apostles also had expectations of the members. A lengthier time in Christ should naturally beget knowledgeable and mature believers—believers who would be able to instruct others. Instead, the members remained unskilled in the word, unable to discern, and dithered on the elementary principles of Christ (Heb 5:13–14; 6:1). The way the author continues also suggests these believers had regressed to the point of being borderline apostates (cf. Heb 6:4–8).
The people of God were “destroyed for lack of knowledge.” What about us? What are the things that we must know to ensure our salvation? Do we lack this knowledge? Do our children lack knowledge? Does our church lack knowledge? God was pained over that generation. How does He see ours?
Making Time for God
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In the blink of an eye, another
new year is upon us. At this point, we will usually look back and reflect on
what we have achieved over the past year. Some will be satisfied that they have
made the most of their time, while others will be disappointed that they did
not reach their desired goals. Sadly, our personal ambitions often become
buried under the more mundane dealings of life—and this is especially true of
our spiritual ambitions.
Many will recognize the feeling
that time is always against them, whether they are a student working to
deadline, a professional juggling multiple projects, or a parent managing a
chaotic household. It can often seem like there are not enough hours in a day. As
Christians, we also have the duty to cultivate our spirituality and serve the
Lord. But when our time and energy are limited, our faithfulness and service
towards God are usually the first to suffer. After all, we think we can always
draw closer to God later on, when we have more time. But is this really the
Integrating Faith with Life
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If someone asked us whether we professed any religion, we may instinctively reply, “I believe in God” or “I’m a Christian.” At such a reply, how often does the questioner demonstrate a desire to find out more about our faith?
A True Jesus Church member was once asked by her colleagues, “How are you always able to remain so joyful and caring toward others despite your busy workload? “ Her selflessness and diligence at the workplace had clearly impressed her colleagues and soon led to a conversation about how her faith enabled her to be so exemplary.
Jesus gave us this principle to live by, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in Heaven” (Mt 5:16). In order to shine for Jesus, we must integrate our faith into our lives, rather than separate the two. Faith is not something we practice only once a week. In this issue, our writers look at how our faith must be infused into every part and every moment of our lives.
The term “faith” sometimes feels too abstract to grasp, let alone manifest in our lives. But if we think about it, faith consists of three crucial elements: biblical knowledge, belief, and practical application of God’s will.
First, biblical knowledge forms the foundation of our faith—it allows us to know God and His will. Without a solid foundation, we will easily deviate from the truth and always remain a spiritual infant. We live in a world where the lines between right and wrong are increasingly blurred. Satan relentlessly tries to tempt us to cross the boundary between holiness and sin. To overcome these, we must be well-grounded and steadfast in God’s word. We must find time to read the Bible, listen to sermons, and study the Bible with others to better know God and His teachings.
However, if our faith only consists of biblical knowledge, we are like the scribes and Pharisees. We know the minutest statute and regulation but understand little of the intent behind God’s commands. We spend much time studying the Bible, but do not truly believe God’s word or use it to improve ourselves. The second critical element is thus belief in God’s truth. The author of the book of Hebrews warns us, “For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it” (Heb 4:2).
Finally, we must translate our Bible knowledge and belief into a walk worthy of our calling. We must apply God’s word to our daily life and live for the Lord; not just once a week in church, but at all times and wherever we are.
Before Jesus ascended to heaven, He entrusted two great
commissions to His disciples: to preach the gospel, and to pastor His sheep.
The Lord’s disciples took up the first commission and preached the gospel from
Jerusalem, to Judea, Samaria, and to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8). Why did these
disciples have such a fervent heart, overcoming all difficulties in order to
complete this commission? It was because they were effectively trained by Jesus.
When He had first begun to preach the gospel, Jesus chose and called His disciples
to follow Him. He later sent them forth to preach the gospel. Within the three
years of His ministry, He also spent time with them so that they could witness
His compassion—how He preached the heavenly gospel, revealed the authority of
the heavenly kingdom, healed the sick, cast out demons, fed the hungry, and
solved man’s problems. His resurrection and ascension gave man a living hope.
The disciples saw, heard and touched the manifested Christ. They had a deep
understanding and a vivid experience of the Lord Jesus (1 Jn 1:1–3). Preaching
the gospel was proclaiming the Lord Jesus who had dwelled with them. The
disciples each shared a deep love and a personal relationship with Him.
Preaching the gospel not only fulfills Jesus’ command, but repays His love. If
we preach with such a heart, then our deeds will be pleasing to the Lord.
Jesus asked Peter three times: “Do you love Me?” And three times, Jesus
commanded Peter to nurture His sheep (Jn 21:15–17). To love the Lord is to be
entrusted with the most important task of pastoring His sheep. Jesus is the Good
Shepherd, sacrificing His life for the sheep. When His love fills us, we can
love those whom He loves. Jesus’ greatest love was revealed on Golgotha.
Paul says, “For if we are beside
ourselves, it is for
God” (2 Cor 5:13a). By pondering over the salvation grace we have received,
counting God’s blessings, praying unceasingly, and submitting to the Holy
Spirit, we will be filled with the love of God, which enables us to make sacrifices
for the sheep. This is how Paul could genuinely care for the believers, spending
and being spent for them, watching and praying unceasingly for their spiritual
Accomplishing these two great commissions goes beyond studying theology,
or holding seminars on the duties of a disciple. What is more important is to
establish a personal relationship with Jesus. For He said, “If anyone loves Me,
he will keep My word” (Jn 14:23a). If we do this, then we can fulfill Jesus’
commission. He also instructed, “[Teach] them
to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you
always, even to the
end of the age” (Mt 28:20). If we, as disciples of Christ, establish a close and personal
relationship with Him, and zealously strive to accomplish the commission which He
has entrusted to us, He will continually sustain us in our service.
Growth—science tells us—delineates the living and non-living. All living things grow; the non-living do not. A pebble does not grow up to become a rock and then a mighty boulder. But little acorns become tender saplings and, in time, great oaks. Newborns become adolescents, adults, and eventually the aged.
Generally, when physiological growth is accompanied by intellectual, emotional, or social development, we say that the person has matured. In particular, parents hope that children do not just grow, but mature because then, these offspring will make the right choices to give themselves a good life.
Growth and maturity are just as indispensable in the spiritual sense. Before we came to know Christ, we were dead in sin. But the Lord Jesus’ sacrifice has given us life anew. Since we are spiritually living, then we ought to spiritually grow. And like any anxious parent, the heavenly Father hopes that we not only grow but attain spiritual maturity for there is much at stake. The mature will know the right path to take towards eternal life. The immature are easily led astray and quickly devoured by the evil one.
But precociousness is sometimes mistaken for maturity. A child who dresses like an adult and parrots adult speech is still not a true adult. So what is true spiritual maturity? How can we attain it?
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Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. (1 Cor 15:1–2)
Imagine how sad it would be for an athlete on course for a hundred-meter victory to stumble at the last hurdle. It is for good reason, then, that Paul says that our faith journey would be in vain if we suddenly turned our backs on God; we would be the most pitiable of people.
During the time of the apostles, the believers were often fiercely persecuted. While the persecution did not cause the church to crumble entirely, it did give rise to irreversible damage, especially towards the turn of the first century. Satan made use of man—false teachers, to be precise—to undermine the church.
here were two types of false prophets. One type comprised people from outside the community of faith; the other was from within (Acts 20:29–30). Concerning the latter, the deceivers disguised themselves in order to infiltrate the church with their destructive heresies. They went on the offensive, using trickery and deceitful plotting (Eph 4:14), causing the church to be scarred (cf. Gal 1–2; Col 1–2; Rev 2–3) and the believers to be unsettled (Acts 15:24; Gal 1:7). The greatest challenge for the apostolic church became a test of faithfulness to God’s word.
The moral from history is the need to stand firm. It entails being rooted in Christ and in His word. God is more than able to save us to the end—to grant us the salvation of our souls. However, we must do our part: we must continuously yield to the word that we received in the beginning and keep it to the end (1 Cor 15:1–2). Standing firm becomes all the more pertinent as we know that Satan has been thrown down from heaven and is attacking the church of God (Rev 12:12) prior to the second coming of Christ.
We thank the almighty God for touching many members to put their thoughts into writing for the edification of the church. Their articles, which appear in the themed section, exhort believers to hold on to the truth that was given to the church once and for all, and remind them to resist subtle worldly allurements.
Let us pray for the Spirit’s empowerment so that we can hold on to our initial faith to the very end.
Love—the Bond of Perfection
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Strong families. What comes to your mind when you think of strong families?
To me, a strong family is one that lives together in harmony, one in which the members support and care for each other, one that works and plays together, and one that pulls through every situation together. Simply put, a family where there is love. I think, to most of us, this is the ideal family.
If we take a look at reality, however, we often find more strife and indifference than harmony and love in today’s homes. Some families may quarrel regularly, while others may happily stick to each other in times of smooth-sailing but are scattered when the storms of life rise up. In fact, human love can be very strong, but it can also be short-lived. Our natural human inclination to focus on ourselves often causes misunderstandings and fights, and when it comes to making sacrifices, our first reaction usually is to run away. In other words, we may be capable of loving others, but deep down, we love ourselves more. That is why our love for others cannot endure.
The church is the body and household of Christ. It is our spiritual family. The bond between the individual members of this household is by the blood of Jesus Christ, through which He redeemed us from sin and made us children of God. But this is only the foundation; what builds up this spiritual family is Jesus’ love (Eph 4:15b–16)—the only everlasting love. Hence, the body of Christ should be filled with God’s love.
The Lord Jesus came to the world as a humble carpenter’s son and led a life of hardship, without even a place to lay his head (Mt 9:20). His short life on earth ended with His death on the cross—a testimony of His selfless sacrifice, where He had fully emptied Himself of His own will for our sakes. He did all this because He loves us.
Jesus’ deep love for us should compel us to love Him in return. If we say we love Him, we must also love our brethren, because they are part of His body (1 Jn 4:7–11, 20–21; Rom 12:5; Gal 6:10). Hence, the writers of this issue’s theme articles remind us to follow Christ’s footsteps to turn our focus away from ourselves. We must empty ourselves, look towards others, constantly renew our minds, and ask God to fill us with His love. Regularly savor the word of God. Let His word speak to you. Be prayerful and submissive. Let the Holy Spirit guide and inspire you. Only then will we be able to see the needs of others and realize that they are just as human and weak as we are. With this realization, we will be willing to bear one another’s weaknesses and forgive one another just as Christ forgave us. We will take the initiative to show care and concern for one another. His love will motivate us to do all these willingly, proactively, and sincerely. In this way, we will not only promote peace and unity at home, school, work, and at church, we will also build up the body of Christ. Ultimately, this body will grow into the full stature of Christ, perfect and mature in God’s eyes, and we will become living testimonies of God’s love—the only love that is able to bind us together in perfect harmony.
What Does the Lord Require of You?
With what shall I come before God? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, or with calves a year old? Will He be pleased with thousands of rams, or ten thousand rivers of oil? O man, He has shown you what is good and what He requires of you: to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.
God’s abundant grace naturally motivates man to seek His pleasure and approval with some form of offering or, at least, with a reciprocal gesture of gratitude. However, our God is the Creator of the universe who does not need anything. He gives to men life, breath, and all things. What can man ever present to Him?
With this understanding, the Israelites during Prophet Micah’s time questioned: what can we offer to please God by whom all things are made? How about sacrificing thousands of rams or offering ten thousand rivers of oil? Their questions seem to suggest that God is difficult to please and that He would not even be contented with such a plethora of sacrifices—as if God would demand something beyond what they could afford. In response, God told them that they had been shown what is good and what He required of them: to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with Him.
It is not about what we can contribute to God’s riches, since He lacks nothing. What He requires of us is simple—to be a person after His heart. It is more about ourselves than what we can do for Him.
Today, we support the church’s work with monetary offerings and by serving with our talents. But does God delight in our service? Are these offerings and services all that He requires of us? The Bible repeatedly reminds us that it is not the scope of our service that pleases God, but the way we present ourselves to Him before rendering a service. God has enough of burnt offerings of rams and oil. If we do not offer ourselves as a living sacrifice and walk humbly with God, our service will be nothing more than the trampling of His courts, which is detestable to Him (Isa 1:11–15).
Through interactions with His people, God has shown us what is good in His eyes. Through His law and the narratives of ancient saints, we are informed of what to do and what not to do. What He requires of us is to act accordingly, making the right choices in life. And this is to live justly.
The Psalmist proclaims that “[r]ighteousness and justice are the foundation of God’s throne; [m]ercy and truth go before His face” (Ps 89:14). Justice and mercy are two attributes of God, and He wants His servants to imitate Him.
This is easier said than done. To find favor in God’s eyes requires lifelong learning. The theme articles in this issue
discuss how we can learn to fear and love God and respond to His requirements. May the Holy Spirit enlighten and guide us to walk humbly in His way to perfection.